For much of the 1990s, our editors considered new family sedans from Japan and America to be quite practical for everyday use but rather feckless in terms of generating excitement or pride of ownership. There was, however, a recommended alternative for the car enthusiast weighed down by the grim reality of family life -- the Nissan Maxima.
During this period, the Maxima, with its powerful V6, upscale interior and catchy "Four-Door Sports Car" marketing tagline, was ideally positioned as a bridge between those midsize snoozers and out-of-reach European sport sedans. These traits, along with continual improvements made by Nissan, ensured a loyal following and strong name recognition.
Since that time, other automakers have targeted the Maxima's niche and brought out excellent competing models. The previous-generation Maxima, in particular, had little to offer to justify its extra price. However, a new Maxima has recently debuted, and it's again a compelling choice for a sedan that provides both performance and luxury. Used Nissan Maximas can also be very worthy, though certain model years are better than others, so some extra research will likely be required.
Current Nissan Maxima
The current Maxima represents the car's seventh generation, and debuted for the 2009 model year. It's a front-wheel-drive midsize sedan that packs a 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. Sending the engine's power to the front wheels is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). In terms of size, it's actually a bit shorter than earlier Maximas; Nissan made this change in hopes of improving the car's handling and making it more distinctive.
There are two available trim levels: 3.5 S and 3.5 SV. The base-model S is pretty well equipped, with a standard features list that includes amenities like keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control and a full complement of safety features. SV models pump up the luxury with features like leather upholstery and a premium nine-speaker Bose stereo. Numerous packages are available that give you the chance to upgrade with options like a voice-activated navigation system, iPod integration and a rearview camera.
Our editors have praised the current Nissan Maxima for its powerful V6 engine and well-sorted suspension tuning. It also offers a high-quality interior and a high number of high-tech features. On the downside, Nissan packages much of that high-tech equipment into expensive packages, meaning the car's price might rise higher than you would expect. Additionally, that high price puts the Maxima in competition with some luxury-branded models. But if you can live without "oohs" and "ahs" from the neighbors, the current Nissan Maxima should be on your must-look list for a premium sedan.
Used Nissan Maximas
In terms of finding a used late-model Maxima, you'll likely encounter the sixth-generation model that spanned 2004-'08. This Maxima was longer, wider and more powerful than earlier models, though it struggled to stand out against the competition.
Two trim levels were offered during this generation: SE and SL. With a slightly stiffer suspension, the SE was designed to be the sportier of the two. Standard features on this trim included 18-inch wheels, an eight-speaker CD stereo, keyless entry, and one-touch up-down front windows. The more luxury-oriented SL offered 17-inch wheels, softer tuning, wood interior trim, heated leather seats, HID headlights and a 320-watt Bose audio system.
Changes were minimal throughout this model's run, so interested shoppers needn't fixate on a particular year. There was a transmission change, however. Maximas from 2007 and 2008 featured a CVT, while earlier models came with either a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. Though earlier Nissan CVTs used on other models were disappointing, the Maxima's CVT worked quite well. You'll also note that the V6 offered by the more recent models in this generation boasts 255 hp, while older models list a higher rating (265). This is the result of a new power rating procedure enacted in 2007. Actual engine performance was unchanged.
In our reviews, we determined that the sixth-generation Nissan Maxima held advantages in terms of power, comfort and interior space when compared to some other V6-powered, front-drive midsize sedans. Driving dynamics offered by Maximas from this generation weren't quite as impressive as those offered by some competitors, though. Fit and finish and materials quality were also hit and miss. If you're shopping for a used car in this age range, the Maxima might be worth a look, but you'd do well to consider cars like the Acura TSX and VW Passat as well.
Fifth-generation Nissan Maximas were available from 2000-'03. Key improvements over earlier models were a smooth-revving 222 hp from the standard 3.0-liter V6, a boost in rear-seat legroom and an available 200-watt Bose audio system. At the time, our editors were still impressed with the car's power and interior room but were increasingly skeptical of its value. Further upgrades were made in 2002, including a bump in displacement (3.5 liters) and power (255 hp) to help keep the Maxima at least marginally ahead of Nissan's V6-powered Altima sedan.
Cars built for the 1995-'99 model years constitute the fourth generation. For this Maxima, Nissan added length, improved the quality of the interior and introduced a new 190-hp all-aluminum V6 for all trim levels, which was arguably the gold standard in its day for responsiveness and refinement. In terms of handling, it wasn't quite as responsive as the previous version, and its styling wasn't very well received, but it was still very popular given its desirable combination of utility, performance and luxury.
The third-generation car was built for the 1989-'94 model years. Nissan was enjoying a product renaissance at the time, and this was the first Nissan Maxima with true sporting credentials. Unlike other Japanese midsize sedans, the Maxima came with a V6 only and the option to order a manual transmission. Early versions had a 160-hp V6; a 190-hp engine became available in 1992 for the Maxima SE. A second-gen Maxima was available from 1985-'88.
For the U.S. market, the Maxima is one of Nissan's most historic vehicles. Known originally as the Datsun 810, it officially became Maxima in 1982, which was also the year that the Datsun brand began its metamorphosis into Nissan.